Finding an Undergraduate School of Business that Works for You

Dean, Mercy College School of Business

If you are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in business, you will find a wide variety of degree programs available. It can be a full-time job in itself to navigate the options. However, there are a few essential guideposts that will help identify which school of business will provide you with the optimal path to success.

Beginning with the end in mind is always good place to start. This means that you should carefully define your goals and keep them in the forefront of your search. Even before you take your first class as a freshman, you might be envisioning that moment when you will graduate and face the exciting challenge of finding a suitable job. College should be an enjoyable and interesting experience, one that helps you prepare for a rewarding and successful career.

As such, you need to consider an important question, even as a high school student evaluating your college options: how will you be prepared to stand out amongst job candidates, everyone holding freshly minted business degrees?

As Dean of the Mercy College School of Business, I approach this question from the dual standpoint of someone who works closely with college students every day and someone who has worked in the business world. In addition to a Ph.D. and other advanced degrees, I held the title of Managing Director at Merrill Lynch where, for many years, I was one of the people doing the hiring. My advice for you is based on my passion for working with students and my experience working in the demanding epicenter of business.

Teachers should be leaders

It takes a business leader to cultivate a business leader.

Seek a college whose professors have recent and impressive experience in business themselves, in addition to academic credentials. Take some time to go deeper into the website and explore the bios of your future professors. Do they have the kind of experience in their own careers that inspires you? Do their backgrounds indicate that they can offer valuable connections in the business world?

Professors with “in the trenches” experience outside of the classroom can not only offer you knowledge and information not found in a textbook, but they can also provide mentoring and networking opportunities, the twin keys to success in business.

Learning by doing

Studies have shown that the single biggest predictor of attaining success in business is active engagement in business at a young age. Students must learn by doing. Time should be spent engaged in active learning experiences, in addition to a classroom environment.

When choosing a college, assess how many opportunities you will have to learn business skills through active participation. Business students are far better prepared for the professional world if they have started and operated a business on campus, consulted real companies, and networked constantly with young professionals. Through these hands-on experiences, students learn to communicate, persuade, and build teams; they discover that identifying the right problem is more important than memorizing a solution.

For example, our students develop a portfolio of skills they can apply to their first jobs after graduation, having worked with companies from the Fortune 500 to start-ups. Recently, students helped launch a company that manufactures and sells customized musical instruments for handicapped people, an exercise in social entrepreneurship. Another group participated in a business simulation experience with executives from IBM when they visited our campus.

Meaningful internships

According to a 2012 report by the National Association of Colleges & Employers, the overall conversion rate for interns to full-time hires has hit an all-time high of more than 58%. In addition, after one year on the job, workers who had been fed in through the organization’s internship/co-op program were retained at a higher rate than hires who had no internship experience.

Internships represent a primary path to obtaining and keeping a job. When you are evaluating schools of business, keep in mind your personal and career goals (if you already know them), think about the quality of the internship programs, and consider the different types of internships that would further your ambitions. Where would you ideally like to work? Have students at that college held internships at these types of companies and have they performed meaningful work, not just clerical/administrative tasks?

Many colleges have these options, but not until senior year. See what opportunities are available to you throughout all four years of your undergraduate career. These are the types of experiences that will make your business education come alive and allow you to distinguish yourself in the job market after graduation.

You will want to make the most of any time you spend in an internship and maximize the opportunity that it could lead to rewarding full-time employment upon your graduation. And although that may seem like a long time away, there is no time like the present to nurture your future business success by choosing the right business degree program and taking advantage of all that it can offer you.

Mentoring and networking: start early, finish first

Ultimately, you will want your college to provide you with a leading edge in landing and keeping the job of your dreams. In business, getting the job is not all about strong grades—not by a long shot.

I remember an anecdote from when I worked at a major investment bank. The hiring director had more than 100 résumés from M.B.A. students at one of the top Ivy League schools. At least 20 of the applicants boasted a perfect 4.0 GPA. Only six of those applicants were interviewed and two were hired.

These numbers may sound ominous, but do not let them discourage you. Part of finding a job is connected to who you know. A good business school will help you build and grow your personal network from day one. We make a point of this at Mercy College, matching incoming freshmen in our business honors program with valuable job shadowing and internship opportunities at major global corporations that they complete even before the first day of classes.

As a student, you can actively cultivate connections to will help you in the business world, including mentors. Mentors are trusted guides who are ready and willing to provide advice and assistance. Mentored people are generally more successful than those who fly solo. Many of the greatest leaders in business have cited mentors as being instrumental to their success. While nearly 70% of Fortune 500 firms offer formal mentoring programs, college can be a time to get a jumpstart on a mentor relationship. Look for a college that offers an engaged faculty who have the time and dedication to provide you with personalized, one-on-one attention.

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